No one doubted that Jeff’s father was dying and most of us who’d heard about it were very sorry. But would he be dead by Saturday, that was the essential question. It didn’t look like it. His guttural, arrhythmical breathing was getting on our nerves. Only one of the four people in the house, not counting the old man in the bed, was related to him. You could see that Jeff, his son, felt uncomfortable in the presence of the others, embarrassed by the inconvenience he was, through no fault of his own, imposing on them. Certainly Jeff had a sense of responsibility, but he dreaded it. It was all so horribly awkward. He knew his sister would be furious when she found out that Jeff had called her too late. She was arriving on Saturday. There would be accusations.
Two of the four had jobs and offices to go to; they had stopped by after work to see how Jeff’s father was “getting on”. Jeff gave them drinks and, for no particular reason, everyone talked in subdued voices. The room smelled of oil of wintergreen and something less pleasant. It was already late Friday. Hersholt, “between jobs” as a primary school science teacher, had been reading to Jeff’s father from a book on black holes until he heard a groan from the bed and a sound he interpreted as, “Stop.”
Hersholt told Jeff to go take a walk, get some fresh air; he’d been “cooped up” in the house for days. Jeff sighed and agreed. “I’ll just take a turn around the block. Thanks, Hersh.”
When he heard the front door click shut, Hersholt went over to the old man, pulled the pillow from under the head and pressed it gently but firmly over his face. The room was now for the first time in many days silent. He put the pillow back where it was, sat down and picked up his book. He looked at his watch and saw that it was late, but not yet Saturday.